Trapped by The Good Guy

I recently found myself on the other side of the contractor/client relationship. My wife and I decided to spruce up the yard and driveway so we hired a landscape contractor to pave a portion of the driveway. Once the job was fully underway, we then decided to expand the project’s scope, which ultimately resulted in tripling the cost.

Just as soon as we had OK’d the project with the contractor, and he had ordered the additional pavers, my wife called me on my cell phone in a panic. It was a classic case of buyer’s remorse she was experiencing. “Why are we spending so much money on the exterior of the house? Don’t you think it’s a bit extravagant to splurge on landscaping? The inside of the house could use that money more than the exterior.”

I called the contractor that night and explained the problem. This is where the story gets interesting. Rather than tell me; “Sorry, mate, materials have been ordered,” this contractor tried to comfort me and said he could work out a payment plan if that was the problem. Furthermore, he went on to say that if my wife really didn’t want the work done, he’d hold the materials for a future job. We’re talking about 16 tons of pavers which are not particularly popular in my area of the country. To add insult to injury, he would have to pay the wholesaler for the material while having it fill up his already cramped yard.

While I appreciated his gesture from a sanity and domestic harmony point of view, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy. It made me realize how difficult it is to be a contractor who actually makes a profit at the end of the year. For so many people running a business, they get trapped by their own noble character. This might sound a bit peculiar, but hey, we all want to think of ourselves as the good guy.

It’s not your problem
How many times do you take on the issues of the homeowner that really aren’t your problem? They can migrate from the client’s personal life into your work. You cannot help it if clients cannot make up their minds when picking out materials, or are in a financial pinch because the stock they were going to use to finance the project has declined in value, or are facing health issues, etc.

In reality, you can be both the good guy as well as a good business person. Having empathy for the client who cannot afford your services is fine as long as it doesn’t interfere with your decision of whether or not to do business with that client. In fact, you are doing both parties a favor if once you realize that your services do not match the client, you gracefully bow out. Why try to further a working relationship that will not serve both parties, and will ultimately leave everyone feeling frustrated and dissatisfied? In the words of Nancy Reagan, “Just say no.”

And when your clients run into personal issues that spill over onto your job, try to be considerate but don’t feel as though it’s your job to mop up. You have enough to do without taking on all of the problems of your clients.

As for that landscaper who was working on my property, things worked out well in the end. Fortunately for everyone, my wife has a noble character, too. When she learned that the pavers were already ordered (and miraculously delivered overnight), she gave the green light to the expanded project. She couldn’t live with herself if she made that good-guy landscaper eat 16 tons of pavers.